The house on Pavement which Joseph Rowntree's father bought when he first moved to York in 1822 has been restored and converted into flats. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

IT is hard to imagine what York might have been like without the Rowntrees. A very different city, certainly.

So it is quite shocking to learn that the whole Rowntree story very nearly belonged to Leeds, not York.

Back in the early 1820s, a young Quaker from Scarborough named Joseph Rowntree (father of the younger and more famous Joseph junior who grew up to be a philanthropist and boss of a chocolate empire) decided to head to the city to make his fortune in business.

At the age of 20, he almost rented a shop in Leeds on the advice of a relative.

"The shop was considered well-suited for a grocery," says Bridget Morris, director of the Rowntree Society. But at the time Joseph saw it, it was 'blocked by cows', Bridget says. And it also had a reputation for getting very wet, bedraggled and dirty when it was raining.

So Joseph looked elsewhere. On June 10, 1822, the day before his 21st birthday, he came to York.

His eye was caught by an empty, dilapidated Georgian property on Pavement which was to be sold at auction.

Legend has it that the auctioneer was drunk at a Skeldergate pub called the Elephant and Castle - and that Joseph had to sober him up by dipping his head in a bucket of water. Whatever the truth of that, by the end of the day the young Joseph was the proud owner of No 28 Pavement, next door to the alley known as Lady Peckitt's Yard. It was the Rowntree family's first foothold in York.

The building was completely run down, its previous owner having gone bankrupt, Bridget says. But beneath the ruin was a handsome Georgian building with two bay windows and a fanlight over the shop door.

Joseph installed new mahogany counters and a heavy iron shutter, and quickly established a thriving grocer's and tea-dealing business on the ground floor. He himself lived in the extensive space above the shop - at first with his unmarried sister Elizabeth and two teenaged apprentices and then, after he married Sarah Stephenson in 1832, with his own family.

All five of his children - including Joseph Rowntree junior - were born here. An 1841 census also records the presence of a live-in governess.

By 1845, the growing family moved out, first to Blossom Street, and then to Bootham. But the Pavement building continued to operate as a grocery business. Rowntree installed a manager at Pavement - and in 1851 a foreman named William Hughes was recorded as living in the building, along with eight apprentices and several domestic servants.

Among the apprentices who learned their trade here were Joseph's own son Joseph junior, as well as the young George Cadbury, and Lewis Fry from the Bristol Quaker chocolate factory.

The Rowntree boys were all educated at Bootham School. The two eldest sons, John and Joseph junior, eventually became partners in the Pavement grocery business. The youngest brother, Henry Isaac, meanwhile, bought the cocoa part of the Tuke family business in Castlegate in 1862 - moving it the following year to Tanner's Moat.

Ten years later, Joseph junior sold his share in the family grocery business on Pavement and instead joined his younger brother Henry's struggling cocoa business. When Henry died in 1883, Joseph took over the company - and the rest is history.

So the building in Pavement played a crucial part in the modern history of York. It is where the Rowntree family first established themselves in the city - and it was where Joseph junior, the great philanthropist and chocolate magnate, grew up and later learned his trade, before moving to join his brother's cocoa factory.

Since then, the building has passed through many hands. The Pavement store was taken over in 1892 by Thomas Coning, although for several years he kept the Rowntree name.

In 1932, street numbers in Pavement were changed, so that what had been No 28 became No 10. In 1943, meanwhile, the shop was taken over by Joseph Collinson, a grocer from Malton.

The Collinson business was sold in 1960, and in 1968, the shop, now owned by Cavenham Foods, opened again under the name Rowntrees Grocery Supermarket - presumably in recognition of its history.

By 1976, however, the building was empty again. Since then, the ground floor at least has been occupied by succession of restaurants: the Corinthia in 1982; the Acropolis (thought to have possibly been York's first Greek restaurant) in 1984; and, since 1987, Pizza Hut.

Along the way, sometime in the late 1800s, the building was extensively remodelled. So the building we have today looks very different to the building that the first Joseph bought in 1822. There is little to indicate that it has such an illustrious history - just one of the York Civic Trust's blue plaques. Pizza Hut still occupies the ground floor - it's only if you look up that you realise how tall the building is.

For many years, the three upper floors - the space, since remodelled, where once Joseph Rowntree junior, George Cadbury and Lewis Fry learned their trade as apprentices - lay derelict and unused: dank, dark, dusty and cobwebbed.

Then the building caught the eye of developer LSG. The company bought the Grade II listed building, and brought in Stonehouse Projects, run by Steve Waugh (no, not the cricketer), and concept designer Carly Agnes, to restore it and convert it into eight one-bed flats.

A team began work in January. A new side-door was opened off Lady Peckitt's Yard so that the flats would be entirely separate from Pizza Hut on the ground floor, and work began on restoring the three upper floors. City council planners and Bridget Morris from the Rowntree Society both kept a close eye on what was happening, and Bridget even advised the developers about how to restore the building in a way that was appropriate to its history.

For Steve Waugh, the £2.2 million project turned into a labour of love. "As the building is grade II listed everything that was included at the time of the listing had to be retained, refurbished and brought back to its former glory," he says. That included plaster coving on the two lower floors (the top floor, where the apprentices lived, was plainer, so didn't have coving); the original wooden interior doors; even the original iron acorn newel post from the magnificent spiral staircase that winds up three floors to the top of the building. The work was completed, bar 'snagging', last Sunday. and the transformation has been astonishing.

Just a few months ago, there were pigeons roosting in some of the empty upper rooms, says Carly. Now the dark, dusty, abandoned interior has been transformed into eight small city-centre apartments, all with different original features (including, in one, an original Victorian range), and many, especially those on the upper floors, with great views out across the rooftops of York.

"We feel as though we've been breathing into a building that has a real history," says Steve.

They're also celebrating that history. The shared entrance area and stairwell will be used to display old Rowntree-related photographs as well as artefacts found during the restoration.

Bridget Morris is delighted that the building has been brought back to life - and that it's history has been respected. Last time she visited, she says, "I had a very, very strong feeling that the history is still intact."

Hopefully the two Joseph Rowntrees, senior and junior, would have approved...


We have a first-hand account of what it was like for Joseph Rowntree junior and his brotjers and sisters growing up in the Pavement house in the 1830s and 40s.

Years later, the great philanthropist and chocolate magnate wrote a letter to his daughter, Lilly, four, in which he described his childhood there.

In his letter, he remembers “the cheerful Sunday evenings in winter, when we gathered round the table, or sat by the fire, in the old drawing-room in Pavement. Father was generally so fully occupied that he was not able to give much time to our school studies, but I have the recollection of one or two delightful lessons on geography, from a large dissected map of Europe, and of his telling me where the raisins and the figs came from, and the straits and seas that the vessels would sail through”.

They may have been well-brought-up Quaker children, but the Rowntree boys, like boys everywhere, could be boisterous.

“A stranger, coming into the family, would probably have been struck with the freedom which we boys enjoyed in many ways,” Joseph junior wrote.

“We had the reputation of being very wild children. My brother John swung down the banisters in a way that excited the terror of his nurses. At another time he burnt off his eyebrows when playing with some gas which he had collected in a large jar.”